Disconnecting from the pain body, or: What I did on my almost-summer vacation
I have never read Eckhart Tolle. Actually, I have never read Eckhart Tolle, but at the tail end of a 4,000 mile return drive across the northern lower 48 in my, at times, comically golf-cart like Toyota Prius C, I have started to listen to him. In 52 hours of driving around farms, prairies, canyons, valleys, arid scrub land, and mountain ranges of Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado (so far) I decided to listen to books that have sat on my mental shelf for years, and Tolle's seminal work with it's highly suspicious new agey title The Power of Now was there. This wasn't my spring plan. I hadn't intended to truck around the continent, sunroof open, floorboards littered with Clif Bar wrappers, a bright cherry red REI tent drying in the back seat, listening to audio books for 66 hours. To be honest, I hadn't planned much at all other than sketching out sculpture ideas when I worked up the strength to make 'an art', checking the news to see what fresh hell awaited us all that day, and how to adjust my SSRIs to stave off the recurrence of a persistent, complicated depression. But I knew I needed to move - I needed to move through space, and I needed to move through a lot of it very soon. I have experienced a serious, relapsing depression for over a decade, and I knew this time I had run out of tricks to combat it at home. After a deeply cold and isolating Chicago winter, this time I needed a large sky and a few thousand miles of asphalt as an IRL adjuvant.
I arrived at the soft, slow, German accented Tolle after five hours of Douglas Hofstadter's I am a Strange Loop (didn't finish, again, for the sixth time), six hours of Roxane Gay's Hunger (outstanding, go read or listen to it now), seventeen hours of David Graeber's Debt: The first 5000 Years (as interesting as you think it would be, as in, very), six hours of Plato's The Republic (didn't finish, unsure why I even attempted listening to it), an hour of Haruki Murakami's The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki (unfinished, and still the absolute worst book he's written IMO), twelve hours of Tara Westover's Educated (this, this book, read or listen to this book right now), and now, with some music, Savage Lovecast, and Radiolab mixed in, Tolle.
I have only heard of Tolle's Power of Now in connection with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (also listlessly unread on my shelf) as complementary primers on mindfulness, flow states, and the connection or disconnection of the mind and body. As an artist and curious human, and someone who often finds themselves wrapped up in themselves too much to be either an artist or curious human, all of these things are of intense and sometimes desperate interest to me. As an artist, the fact that I find these things lately nearly almost always inaccessible has been very, very frustrating for me. As an artist and hopeful, but imposter-syndrome laden, future academic, that lack of access to things like flow and feeling present and mindful have been very anxiously distressing.
So, dear reader, what difference does this make to this month's curation? I'd wager it hardly needs to be said that movement can profoundly change us, make us more aware, hone our attention and in fact put us in a present flow. But what does that look like? For me, in the last 4,000 miles my presence experiences might seem cliché. Looking into a field of stars and pondering my position in the cosmos in the Badlands or feeling the lightness and insignificance of my body in Echo Park in the Dinosaur National Monument contrasted to giant rock canyons, caves, and snaking rivers have gave me the contrasting feelings of immensity and tiny near-irrelevance only those forms can give. But also seeing Charlotte Moorman's television cello (and matching bra!) at the Walker or feeling the wind whip around me in Olympic Sculpture Park while watching a freight train cruise through Seattle. Both of those things have stopped me dead in my tracks. Why? What about those things couldn't I conjure in my own imagination, seeing them through photos or videos in my apartment? What about the sensation of newness, novelty, movement, and change has moved me to tears or smiles or contemplation over all of these things I've seen in two weeks? I imagine Tolle might say it was a removal from the pain body, or the ability to be now instead of in the future, instead of being wrapped up in anxieties and fear and to just be here.
This month, we will explore transition through movement: working through hard moments, blocks, breaks, significant trials, trauma, unanswered questions, curiosity, nihilism, and boredom through playful, deliberate, present movement. Movement takes time, energy, desire, drive, and attention. Hopefully, the artists who have moved in the next few weeks awaken some or all of these things for you.
I leave you with the soft foot falls of a thousand small sheep who stopped me in central Colorado, themselves ultimately present inside of their fluffy, baaing, bodies.